Throughout the ages, the Chinese have used lanterns not only as sources of light or simple paper decoration, but they symbolize vitality, social status and good luck. Around the world, the round, red lantern remains one of the most easily recognized trademarks of Chinese culture.
What lanterns are made of
On the whole, they consist of a frame made of metal wire or bamboo strips covered with paper, silk or thin gauze and then painted over to be attractive. Paper lanterns do not last very long, they break quickly, and silk lanterns last longer. In their simplest form, they are simply a paper bag with a candle placed inside, although more complicated lanterns consist of a collapsible bamboo or metal frame of hoops covered with tough paper.
Colors of lanterns
Red is the most common lantern color. The Chinese associate red with joy and good fortune. Red also represents energy and vitality. Red lanterns feature liberally in marriage and birth ceremonies, and hang outside the doorway of houses celebrating these occasions.
Blue represents sickness or decreasing energy, so displaying a lantern of that color signals an illness in the household. White represents death and mourning, so white lanterns—especially when accompanied by a white sash across the top of the doorway—indicate that a death has occurred in that household.
Chinese Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival is celebrated on January 15 of the Chinese lunar calendar. It symbolizes the return of the spring. The Lantern Festival may be regarded as the last day of the Spring Festival, the new-year festival of China, or in other words, the Spring Festival does not end until the Lantern Festival has passed.
Craftsmen create elaborate lanterns for the occasion, sometimes using unusual materials such as glass and sugar. Even in the Chinese countryside, small villages are brightly decorated with homemade lanterns strung across streets and upon homes.
In addition to New Year celebrations, the Chinese lantern still appears today at festivities such as weddings and ceremonies marking the birth of a child.